‘The Oath’ DVD Review: Ike Barinholtz’s Political Comedy Is A Sleeper
The Oath, which premiered at the Los Angeles film festival last September, has so much potential. In his feature-film directorial debut, comedian Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project) stars alongside comedy superstar Tiffany Haddish in a dystopian American future (or present?) when the President asks American citizens to sign a loyalty oath to his office. When Chris (Barinholtz) and his wife Kai (Haddish) refuse to do so, they spend Thanksgiving arguing with their family members about politics, and find themselves in a sticky situation with law enforcement officers.
Barinholtz’s intentions are clear. Drawing on the very real dogfight that is American politics these days, his screenplay is a solid effort at political satire, but one that ultimately falls short. Chris spends the first half of the film acting hopelessly naive; a white man complaining to his black wife about the shortcomings of American democracy while consistently reminding his conservative family members that he’s the one who understands complexity. He never says anything particularly thought-provoking, and Haddish’s talent is entirely wasted in this role as the devoted housewife. Arguments with his family (his mother is played by SNL alum Nora Dunn, who is also barely given anything to do) are uncomfortable and only the slightest bit humorous, sometimes hitting close to home while at other times doing nothing but killing time on screen.
In the second half of the film, The Oath suddenly switches gears, shifting from an awkward and satirical dark comedy to a frightening display of political violence. When two law enforcement officers (John Cho and Billy Magnussen) enter Chris’ home, the group gets into a physical altercation over their political disagreements. Magnussen plays the terrifying officer convincingly enough, but when the film ends with the conveniently timed resignation of the President, his demeanor suddenly shifts and the film ends on an unrealistically uplifting note.
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If anything,The Oath seems to be Barinholtz’s own attempt at contextualizing this political moment, but his cliched lines and all-too-glib ending makes the film a political critique without much of anything to say. Yes, political divisions will create societal conflict, the film seems to say, but if you’re a relatively good person who sticks to his beliefs, everything will turn out just fine. The film might have fared better as a five-minute comedy sketch, with the ending as the ultimate punchline, rather than a 93 minute tale of Chris’ political woes. Nevertheless, the film has its moments, and definitely gets its desired point across.
The Oath is now available on DVD, along with a range of special features which include deleted scenes (which are all just extensions of already too-long scenes not cut from the film), theatrical trailers and two political games hosted by writer-director Barinholtz. The games, “Fake News or Facts” (where Barinholtz tries to guess the difference between real headlines and fake ones) and “Turkey Day Trauma” (where Barinholtz gives bad advice for dealing with family on Thanksgiving) are actually quite funny and worth the watch. But you can skip the rest of the film.
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